CLOWNS, LULLABIES AND BUTTERFLIES
by Andy Morten
By mid-1966 The Hollies had practically sealed their reputation as one of the most successful British bands of the decade. Their version of Graham Gouldmans "Bus Stop" was sitting at number 5, the latest in an almost unbroken three-year run of Top 10 hits.
Up to this point, all but one of the Hollies hits had been either cover versions or songs written for them by outside songwriters. The exception was "Were Through", the sombre samba-tinged 1964 single credited to L Ransford, a pseudonym concocted by the bands three principal songwriters, vocalist Allan Clarke and guitarist / vocalists Tony Hicks and Graham Nash, after being told that Clarke / Hicks / Nash would take up too much space on the record label! Subsequent Ransford compositions appeared on B-sides or tucked away on albums over the next year or two, obviously inspired by the seemingly limitless hit-making abilities of Lennon and McCartney. Ironically it was their version of "If I Needed Someone" which had interrupted The Hollies flow of hits after their version was publicly denounced by its author George Harrison. Even The Rolling Stones, those bastions of snotty R&B purity, had released their adventurous and entirely self-composed Aftermath LP to huge acclaim earlier in 1966. The months that followed saw the release of Revolver, Blonde On Blonde, Pet Sounds, The Byrds Fifth Dimension and The Kinks Face To Face.
The Hollies knew they had to keep on top of the changing times or risk disappearing into the middle of the road. Nash in particular was hip to the brave new sounds emanating from the other side of the Atlantic and embraced the Californian vibes with abandon. So, with a head full of Beatles, Byrds and Dylan, the correctly and alphabetically re-Christened Clarke/Hicks/Nash team set about writing material which reflected these new-found sensibilities. Thus, The Hollies embarked on their most creative period, resulting in a string of perfect pop singles and three deliriously great albums and leading to their eventual internal combustion.
FOR CERTAIN BECAUSE
The first fruits of their labours were the "Stop! Stop! Stop!" single and For Certain Because album, both released in October 1966. At first appearance the single is fairly lightweight, commercial but essentially a rewrite of an earlier Ransford composition "Oriental Sadness" (from the 1966 album Would You Believe). However, powered by the songs insistent chorus and Tony Hicks spirited banjo picking, it rose to number 2. The flip side, "Its You", is a supremely catchy beat number introduced by a great Bobby Elliott drum roll and powered by Allan Clarkes harmonica.
Both sides of the single appear on For Certain Because alongside ten other good reasons why the boys made the right decision to record exclusively their own material. The album opens with the strident "Whats Wrong With The Way I Live", featuring the return of Tony Hicks banjo and written especially for Australian band The Twilights whose version was released a couple of months earlier. New bass player (or bass Hollie as the sleeve notes dub him) Bernie Calvert shows his skill at the piano on "Pay You Back With Interest". This song was released as a single in most territories except, inexplicably, the UK and is certainly one of the albums highlights. Early signs of Graham Nashs distinctive style are evident on "Tell Me To My Face" (which recalls the samba flavour of "Were Through"), "Clown" (a minor key masterpiece) and the ambitious "Crusader". The big band arrangements of ex-Manfred Mann man Mike Vickers add a dignified air to the dixie influenced "High Classed" and the show-stopping "What Went Wrong" (Tom Jones could have pulled this one off). Of course there are reassuring doses of sparkling Hollies pop, not least in the gossamer 12-string jangle of "Suspicious Look In Your Eyes".
Clarke, Hicks and Nashs already renowned harmonies leap to new heights and the whole album is rendered crystal clear by Ron Richards masterly production. The album made the top ten but was their lowest charting long player since their debut three years earlier.
During a January 1967 recording session, The Hollies found themselves surrounded by TV cameras in the studio. Granada Television were filming the band recording vocals (and miming to an already recorded backing track) for a documentary about the pop business. Obviously this intrusion didnt phase the lads at all as its this take of "On A Carousel" which became their next single in February. A stone classic in the Hollies admirable canon of singles, the song builds from a simple two-chord guitar motif into an energetic romp powered by Bobby Elliotts untouchable dynamics and those ever-present liquid harmonies. Turn the single over and youll discover the Hollies first venture into psychedelia, "All The World Is Love", based around a repetitive raga-like riff and featuring some sly visual rhymes ("love" and "move").
Around this time the band recorded two Italian language sides, "Non Predo Per Me" and "Devi Avere Fiducia In Me", for a European song contest (NOT the Eurovision!). They duly went to Italy to perform at the ceremony but the songs didnt make much of an impact. Two further Clarke/Hicks/Nash songs, "Kill Me Quick" and "Were Alive", were recorded in February and released as a single in Italy only. These are above average beat songs more akin to their 1965 work than the sophisticated sounds theyd been creating in England.
Meanwhile, "On A Carousel" peaked at number 4 and was chased up the charts barely two months later by "Carrie Anne", a hugely commercial song and one of the bands best-known singles. The schoolboy meets schoolgirl lyrics perfectly suited the prevailing summer of love vibe while its innocence seemed strangely out of sync with the baroque ambiguities of "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" or "Waterloo Sunset"s melancholy localisms. Clarke, Hicks and Nash (in that order) take one verse each while Nash overdubbed all three harmonies on the choruses. This was the first instance of what would become a regular working practice over the coming months. Continuing in the tradition of great Hollies B-sides is "Signs That Will Never Change". The song was written for The Everly Brothers and was recorded, with help from The Hollies, for their 1966 album Two Yanks In England which the Everly-worshipping Clarke and Nash had been invited to contribute to. (The album also contains versions of "Hard, Hard Year", "Stewball" and "Like Every Time Before" also written and recorded by The Hollies). "Carrie Anne", not surprisingly, rocketed to number 3 in June 1967, just as the bands new album Evolution hit the streets.
Prior to recording, Bobby Elliott had been rushed into hospital with acute appendicitis which left him unable to play on most of the sessions, his stool (but not his boots) being filled by session ace Clem Cattini who appears on almost all of the album. Mitch Mitchell also helped out though he only appears on "Schoolgirl", a Graham Gouldman song recorded in March as a potential single but discarded in favour of "Carrie Anne".
Evolution is The Hollies pure pop album. Despite its garish mind-bending sleeve, its only musical concession to psychedelia is a liberal sprinkling of the kind of studio fairy dust which was becoming commonplace by this point. Neither of the preceding singles are included and none were subsequently lifted from it, more proof of the Clarke/Hicks/Nash teams increasingly prolific output. The Searchers had taken "Have You Ever Loved Somebody" into the charts a year earlier but here The Hollies drenched their version in over-the-top distorted guitar and played it twice as fast. The album opener "Then The Heartaches Begin" also benefits from Tony Hicks newly acquired fuzz box. At the other extreme are "Lullaby For Tim", Allan Clarkes fairytale paean to his son, sabotaged by Nash whose lead vocal is piped through a gimmicky underwater effect, and Nashs own unbearably twee "Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe". Somewhere inbetween these two ends of the spectrum are some of the strongest yet most understated songs in Hollie-dom. "Water On The Brain", "You Need Love", "Heading For A Fall" and "When Your Lights Turned On" seem unremarkable at first but grow into ludicrously catchy pop gems upon further listening. Nash does his introspective minstrel routine to great effect on "Stop Right There" and the closing "The Games We Play" is a smile-inducing theme tune to an English summers day, complete with northern accents and seaside postcard double entendres.
The production is a little murky in places, probably due the piecemeal way in which it had been recorded at various fitful sessions over a two month period. Sadly, the album failed to light up the charts, barely scraping the Top 40. 1967 was the year that albums began to outsell singles and, outside a handful of lucky exceptions (Beatles, Stones, Who), you were deemed either a singles band or an albums band.
That said, The Hollies next release threatened to undermine the security and reputation they had gained as a singles band. Released in September, "King Midas In Reverse" can, in hindsight, be viewed as a bold leap into new territory, affirmation of their confidence and one of the greatest singles of a great year for singles. At the time it was tantamount to commercial suicide. Graham Nash, its chief author, has since claimed it as his first serious lyrical statement and dispelled accusations of jumping on the psychedelic bandwagon with the heavily Manc-inflected "were about as psychedelic as a pint of beer wit lads." With its oblique lyrics, downbeat acoustic guitar strumming and over-the-top orchestration, "King Midas In Reverse" still reached a respectable number 18. On the B-side is another overlooked gem from the Hollies flower-pop phase, "Everything Is Sunshine", featuring Nashs double-tracked vocals and a jaunty harpsichord solo courtesy of Bernie Calvert.
Regardless of this slight deviation from the top 5, the bands new album, their third in twelve months, was released in October. Butterfly is both the pinnacle and the death of the Clarke/Hicks/Nash song writing team and the Hollies flirtation with psychedelia. The band are pictured on the back cover, looking awkward in kaftans, smocks and floppy hats, the photo taken before Allan Clarke had adopted the short-lived perm/moustache combo he sported during a performance of "King Midas" on Top Of The Pops. Again, neither side of the single are included though the opening "Dear Eloise" appeared as a single almost everywhere except the UK. This is another Hollies classic, a boisterous slice of perfect pop topped and tailed with sublime medieval passages featuring just Nashs vocal and a harmonium accompaniment. Nashs presence dominates the album while, conversely, featuring some of his flimsiest compositions to date. "Away Away Away", "Wishyouawish" and "Postcard" are pleasant odes to throwing pebbles in the sea and skipping down the highway but pale alongside earlier cuts like "Clown" and "Crusader". Nashs material reportedly caused friction with other band members during the sessions resulting in Bobby Elliott accusing the bearded one of being more interested in the application of sonic effects than the quality of his songs. The fact that Nash insisted on overdubbing all the vocal parts on his own compositions must also have antagonised Clarke and Hicks. Still, he pulls a couple of master strokes. "Maker" is a lush, dreamy hymn, enveloped in swirling sitar, while the title track features Nashs hushed vocal, phased and fading in and out of distortion, accompanied only by a haunting Mike Vickers string score. Shades of "Eleanor Rigby" perhaps? Along with "Maker", there are two other attempts at full-blown psychedelia in "Try It" and "Elevated Observations?" which swim in a sea of backward cymbals, tape loops and primeval moog noodling. Tony Hicks takes his first ever lead vocal on his own composition "Pegasus The Flying Horse" while Allan Clarkes contributions drag the traditional Hollies sound through the sonic grinders of Abbey Road to be reborn as the grandiose "Would You Believe" and the perfect "Step Inside", three minutes of the purest Hollie-pop youll find in their entire back catalogue.
Butterfly is The Hollies at their most adventurous and their most playful. Sadly the British public didnt find out as they didnt bother buying it.
The writing was on the wall. Tension over their musical direction began to emerge and, presumably in order to get back in the top 10 and appease EMI, their next single in March 1968 was the sugary sing-a-long "Jennifer Eccles". Its by no means a bad song but the sense of daring evident on Butterfly is nowhere to be heard. The B-side "Open Up Your Eyes" is equally as good, if not better, and features the three vocalists taking a verse each, "Carrie Anne" style, with more banjo magic from Tony Hicks.
Sessions for a new album began during the spring but with only a handful of recordings completed, the project was abandoned. Of these tracks, Nashs wistful "Relax", the wah-wah tinged "Tomorrow When It Comes" and the driving harmonies of "Man Of No Expression" show signs of greatness, as does one of the most beautiful Hollies songs of the era, "Wings". This was written by Clarke and Nash for the World Wildlife Fund charity compilation album released in late 1968 which is probably best-known for including The Beatles first (and best) version of "Across The Universe" as well as a host of stars such as The Bee Gees, Cilla Black and Harry Secombe! Abbey Road studio logs indicate that several other titles were recorded by The Hollies for this ill-fated 1968 album, including "Ashes To Ashes", "Marrakesh Express" and "Lady Of The Island", the last two of which Nash subsequently took with him to his next project later in the year.
"Jennifer Eccles" did indeed return The Hollies to the top 10, peaking at number 7, but became the fifth and final Clarke/Hicks/Nash-penned A-side. When their next single "Listen To Me" appeared in September, it was clear that the Hollies song writing team was all but finished. The song is written by Tony Hazzard, a songwriter of great commercial talent whose other hits had included "Ha! Ha! Said The Clown" and "Fox On The Run" for Manfred Mann and "Me, The Peaceful Heart" for Lulu. His 1968 CBS album Tony Hazzard Sings Tony Hazzard is well worth picking up (if you can find a copy) and kicks off with his own version of "Listen To Me" featuring Tony Hicks on guitar. The last Clarke/Hicks/Nash composition to be released during their time together is the B-side "Do The Best You Can".
The single was barely in the shops before Nash announced his departure from The Hollies, also leaving his wife, family and England into the bargain. Fleeing to sunny California and teaming up with fellow frustrated pop stars David Crosby of The Byrds and Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, the trio immediately hit pay dirt with their debut album Crosby, Stills & Nash and never looked back.
The Hollies recruited Terry Sylvester and released The Hollies Sing Dylan, an idea mooted while Nash was still in the band. They continued to score hits into the 70s with "Sorry Suzanne", "He Aint Heavy, Hes My Brother" and "Gasoline Alley Bred". Their 1970 album Confessions Of The Mind opens with a re-recording of the 1968 Clarke/Hicks/Nash out-take "Survival Of The Fittest".
For Certain Because, Evolution and Butterfly were reissued on CD by EMI in 1999, each disc featuring the stereo and mono versions of the album. The Hollies At Abbey Road 1967-70 is a self-explanatory CD compilation released by EMI in 1998 and worth investigating due to the inclusion of all the great B-sides as well as the Nash-era out-takes "Schoolgirl" and "Man Of No Expression". The out-of-print 1988 Rarities compilation features the early 1968 out-takes "Relax" and "Tomorrow When It Comes" plus "Wings", a great live rendition of "The Times They Are A-Changin" from 1968 and "Like Every Time Before", begun in 1966 and completed during the aborted 1968 album sessions. The French label Magic reissued Evolution on CD in 1998 in the original French sleeve and added the six 1967 single sides, all four Italian-only sides and "Schoolgirl".